The Abbey of the Three Fountains, Part 1

It was a bit of an effort to get there by bus, but we recently made it out to the Abbey of the Three Fountains (Abbazia delle Tre Fontane). It is a lovely little place that feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of modern Rome.

You reach it by walking down a quiet driveway framed by trees, as seen at the top of this post. After a short bit, you come to this medieval entrance gate.

The massive entrance to the abbey


Through the gate, you enter into this lovely compound of paths, trees, and churches.

Looking through the gate at the Abbey of the Three Fountains
Looking through the gate


Follow the pathway to Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio (left) and to Santa Maria Scala Coeli (right).

But there’s a surprise in store. Not only does this abbey have three fountains (really they’re springs), but it also has three churches!

The first church you come to is the simplest, but still lovely — Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio alle Tre Fontane. Originally built by Pope Honorius I in 626 C.E., this peaceful church and attached monastery are dedicated to Saints Vincent and Anastasius. The Persian Saint Anastasius (well, his head) showed up first in the 7th century. The relics of Saint Vincent, who was from Spain, showed up in the 14th century. The church we see at this abbey dates from the 1200’s, when the front portico and wonderful wooden roof were added. The interior is vast, plain, and cool — and entirely peaceful. We were there with just one woman, who was quietly praying.

Inside Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio alle Tre Fontane

The second church is the abbey’s smallest, and just a few steps from the first. Santa Maria Scala Coeli is dedicated to the Virgin. The name “Scala Coeli” means “ladder to heaven.” Legend is that Saint Bernard was here in 1138, and had a vision of souls leaving purgatory and climbing a ladder to heaven.

Although Santa Maria is much older, the current structure dates from the 16th century and was designed by none other than Giacomo della Porta. We had the place to ourselves. It’s a pretty and cozy church, octagonal in shape, with a blue ceiling replete with gold stars. This church is said to hold the relics of Saint Zeno and the 10,203(!) slaves who were forced to build the Baths of Diocletain and then slaughtered after completing their task in 299 C.E. 

Inside Santa Maria Scala Coeli


Altarpiece showing the Scala Coeli on the left edge


Apse mosaic


View of the starry blue ceiling above the mosaic

Santa Maria has more to offer. Proceed downstairs, and you will find the crypt. This crypt has a special significance that ties in to the name of the monastery.

The crypt in Santa Maria Scala Coeli

Behind the crypt’s altar are two tiny and primitive cells. You can view them through barred windows shown in the picture above. In one cell there is an altar that apparently was to a pagan goddess (which you get used to in Rome since early Christians built on top of ancient pagan structures). Legend says that Paul the Apostle was imprisoned in the other cell while awaiting his execution. This bit brings us to the name of this lovely abbey… which I will discuss in my next post.